How To Protect Your Children From Predators

I am neurotic about predators. When my kids started preschool and when they go to out for activities to the park or for classes, I’m constantly on the look out to protect them. To look for people who may not be “safe” or are  “over friendly”. This is not just a fear thanks to the vivid, disturbing news we are exposed on a daily basis. It stems from memories.

At the age of 11 living in Madhya Pradesh (India), I opened the door to the  postman and he asked for a glass of water. When I got it for him, handing it through the grill(thankfully) at the door, he caught my hand and held it to his crotch of his pants, then kissed it and smiled. Even at that young age, I knew that was wrong and ran to my mom to tell her. He was put in jail for a day before his wife came to plead for his life and he was released.

When I was 14 and used to walk home from school in Kuwait (Kuwait) with my mom a man used to often follow us all the way home in his car.

At the age of 17, I was riding in bus and a man sat next to me Mumbai (India). He kept touching me and touching me and I froze. I got off at my stop, cried my way home.

When I was 20 and travelling with my mother in the bus to Goa (India), a hand crept out from behind and started rubbing  my hair. Needless to say, my mother chewed the guy’s head off in front of everyone.

These are just four of the many experiences I’ve had personally. I don’t say this to scare you. Of course, it was scary and still leaves me feeling icky. These events taught me at an early age, that there are many deranged people out there. While these are some of my worst memories, I think somewhere it made me hyper aware and at the same time stronger, knowing it’s not to be taken seriously. Maybe I got desensitized to it all (not a good thing). In India and Kuwait, there is an unsaid acceptance and allowance of such behavior. That is food for another discussion.

But this is why I’m a strong advocate that the conversation begin early so that children be able to recognize such behavior, understanding that sometimes even people you know are capable of horrible acts. Mind you these things happened while my parents were close. It is not the act but the reaction that carries significance.

Last year, an acqauintance was at Walmart with her kids. She was browsing the aisles, the kids  in the cart when a man caught her 7 year old child’s attention. He unzipped his pants and gestured her to keep silent. The child got horrifically rattled and told her mother as soon as she could get out of the shock but the man was long gone by the time the authorities were informed.

My son is five year old but I have been having conversations with him about personal safety since he was 4. Specially because he has always been an extremely friendly child who loves to make “friends”. Now, so is my two year old daughter. And I worry about their friendliness making them easy prey. On the other hand, I never want to them to lose their happy demeanor. To be too scared to say Hi to strangers. We need people who are friendly to make the world a warm place to live. Who aren’t scared to be the first one to break the proverbial ice. So how do we do it?

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The below conversations we have at regular intervals in my household becaus for children repetition is very essential. Every child is different. You will find it useful to use the below as baseline to start a dialogue essential for proactive thinking. To start talking about this disturbing topic is the first step.

No Secrets Within Family
I believe this is the most important thing kids need to remember, in their early years specially. Of course there will be a time when their life is their own but when they are young they are to know that while they don’t have to tell their parents every single thing, it is wrong if someone, specially an adult tells them to keep a secret. My parents have always have open dialogue. There absolutely nothing I feel uncomfortable talking to them about. This I think is what helped me just go and tell my mom, ” The postman took my hand and put it on his pants. ” immediately after it happened. One should never feel fear in telling their parents anything.

I always say that no topic should be barred from discussing with kids, specially when they see something on TV (adults kissing) or hear something that may possibly confuse them about issues.  Listening and letting them ask questions, no matter how uncomfortable that are answered as you may see fit is a great way to make sure kids trust parents.

You body is off limits
No one and I cannot emphasis this enough, No One should touch them inside their shirt or skirt/pants. Or kiss their lips. With some people being extra cuddly, it is okay that kids understand that saying no if they feel uncomfortable is just respecting their body. This is one of the reasons why I too personally always ask children for hugs. They can always be taught to show their respect and love in other ways. It means a lot more when it comes from them than mushing them anyway.

Permission is Must
We all tell our kids they should ask before going anywhere but many a times we forget to tell them not to walk off with a friend to an unknown place. They should always play where you can see them and they can see you. They should understand walking off into the horizon behind a balloon or ice cream cart is Not okay. Going to a secret exciting place with a friend or some adult they know is not okay. They should always ask for permission from the person in charge before going anywhere.

Define Stranger
In the beginning, when I started this conversation my son asked me, ” Who is a stranger? ” And then we went on to discuss who all are considered family, friends and people we just meet once in a few months or a year. It is important that kids understand the definition of a family’s boundaries and relationships.

No Helping Strangers
It’s important to be nice. Say hi to strangers. Smile at them but remember to explain to your child that they are too young to actually help an adult. Many children feel very grown up in being able to do something an adult asks them to do. They are in a constant hurry to prove themselves or please others. So if an adult who is a stranger says,” Can you help me with … ” they are to respond with, ” Sure. Let me go ask my parents/teacher first. ”

There is Enough at Home
Kids are greedy by default. It’s not their fault. They are drawn to that extra piece of candy or toy or whatever is their favorite thing.  And many times we parents exploit this honest response by making lot of activities incentive based. But at the same time every child needs to know that their parents can provide everything for them. They do Not need to ask or take anything that any other person offers them in return for something.

Shout, Run away & Assault
Like honesty is the best policy. I believe running away is the best policy in any dangerous situation. Children need to know that when they feel uncomfortable, their first response should be to shout out and run away. If someone does try to or successfully does grab them then nothing is off limits. Nothing! You are allowed to hit, punch, bite, scratch and most importantly scream. We even practice the volume level at home.

Read to Get Talking

Fear is not the solution to anything. The world is scary. The only way we can live is being constantly cautious. As adults we now are naturally so but we need to enable our children to do the same and know what to do in any given situation.

Have you already had this conversation with your child? What age did you start? Are there any other things you would make sure they know? Let me know in the comments below. Keep the conversation going with your children, stay safe!

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14 comments

  1. The world can be such a scary place and you don’t want to alarm your children, but it seems like we need to protect them more and more from unthinkable things in society.

  2. As Indian parents we tend to get carried away by our “culture”. To add to your point on “no secrets in family”, unfortunately not every children are privileged to talk openly with their parents about everything becoz it is a taboo and in our “culture” we do not discuss such things as we do not want to follow “western culture”. Many of the things which they hesitate to talk about or ask about is because it is a restricted topic of discussion. A simple example is , a kid watching a sanitary napkin’s advertisement and asking “what is it?” .. Most parents shut the conversation right there, either giving no reasonable answer or by warning them never to ask such questions again. The list of such taboo topics are innumerous. This gives the children a fear and reluctance to open up and seek help from their parents when they face ugly situations as they feel that this is something which is not allowed to be discussed.

    Body off the limits : yes ..I also believe that one should ask the permission before even touching another person. Hugging and kissing little kids without their concern is still norm in the place where I come from , back in India. Recently when I was on vacation in India, my father pointed out that my son is not too friendly with everyone and he does not give a shake hand to all the people he meet and it does not look nice as all children around here are all very friendly to everyone .. My 3 yr old son only gets very friendly with people whom he likes (not sure of his selection criteria) and can become hostile to people whom he doesn’t like .. I have never compelled him to even give a Hi-5 to anyone if he doesn’t want to. So I told my father, I will not force him to be friendly to anyone let alone giving a shake hand.. if anyone have a problem with it then so be it.. Never want him to feel that he does not have control of his body and emotions.

  3. These are all fantastic tips. It’s important to keep kids safe from online predators, too, and to teach them to turn the location off on their photos, etc.
    xoxo, erin | sandsunandmessybuns.com

  4. You give some really great tips here to work with your kids and help them understand stranger-danger. My daughter is 1, and I think about this a lot and reading her a book is a great way to start the conversation with her even at a young age. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I have to admit as a mum to 2 young girls, predators are always at the forefront of my mind (maybe more than they should be). But I can’t help it, I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them. I started the talk with my daughter from about 3 years, I try and keep it light but serious and age appropriate. Like yours, my children are very friendly and happy I don’t want to scare them.

  6. These are great tips. It’s not something we always talk about because it’s almost taboo, but we really should be having these conversations as parents. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This post touches so many places within me.
    You give great advice, Aditi. This is a broken world, unfortunately, and we can never start too early educating our children. Thanks for sharing your tips and I’m very sorry for the experiences you had.
    Best,
    Bibi

  8. It’s a very touchy article, sensitive issue yet written boldly.. Thanks for sharing.. I too believe in talking to my daughter about her safety and discuss things..

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